Olympic Buildings

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Photo: Sports Hall, Olympic Stadium, and Swimming Stadium. Helifoto / MFA
  • PlaceHelsinki
  • Completion 1930s–50s
  • Decade1930s
  • PeriodConstructing the identity of a newly independent nation
  • Year of selection1993


The buildings constructed for the Olympic Games in Helsinki comprise also from an international perspective a well-preserved totality of Olympic buildings. The white sports buildings, located in park surroundings in different parts of the city, were among the first competition venues in Finland to meet international requirements which were also designed for the use of the city’s inhabitants.

When Tokyo withdrew in 1938 from organising the 1940 Olympics, the games were awarded to Helsinki. Sports venues and various service buildings, such as accommodation for the athletes and general public, as well as commercial buildings were built in the city. The Olympic Games provided a justification for improvements to the entire city. In spring 1940 the Olympic Games were cancelled because of the war. When it was later decided that the 1952 Summer Olympics would be held in Helsinki, the sports buildings from the 1930s were finally completed. Also completely new buildings were constructed, such as the South Harbour passenger boat terminal, the so-called Olympic Pavilion (nowadays known as the Olympia Terminal).

Different architects designed the sports buildings for the smallest Olympic city of all time, the minimalist architecture of which followed uniform design principles. In the case of the Olympic Stadium, Swimming Stadium, Velodrome, Rowing Stadium, Ruskeasuo Riding Hall, Exhibition Hall (Sports Hall) and Automobile Palace (Tennis Palace) their concrete structures were left exposed and the facades painted white. The international sports requirements dictated the designs of the Olympic venues. In addition to running tracks, swimming pools and sports fields, facilities serving the athletes, maintenance and staff, as well as the general public and media were required. In addition to the design requirements set by the various sports disciplines, there was a focus on versatility, and which is still evident today, both when it comes to large public events and everyday leisure activities.

The main competition location, the Olympic Stadium, rises to form the central point among the other sports buildings in the Eläintarha sports park in the Töölö district of the city. The stadium’s slender 72-metre-tall tower became the symbol of the Olympic Games and Finnish sport, as well as one of the capital’s landmarks. The Stadium was designed by Yrjö Lindegren and Toivo Jäntti after they had won a two-stage architectural competition in 1933. The stadium was inaugurated in an incomplete state in 1938, but was completed ready for the 1940 Olympics. The concrete spectator stands of the stadium were extended for the 1952 Olympics. The Olympic Stadium has maintained its position as the most important venue in Finland for sporting and other major events, which is why infill building and renovation recur.

The Swimming Stadium, designed by Jorma Järvi, is situated in the middle of a rocky natural park northeast of the Olympic Stadium. The construction had begun in 1938 but was interrupted in 1941 by the war, though it was eventually completed in 1952. Having won second prize in the architectural competition for the Sports Hall in 1933, Aarne Hytönen and Risto-Veikko Luukkonen were commissioned to design the final building, situated south of the Olympic Stadium, which was completed in 1935. The Sports Hall’s second multipurpose hall, designed by the same architects, was completed in 1950. The Rowing Stadium, situated on a cape in Taivallahti Bay, together with a combined club and boathouse, was designed by Hilding Ekelund, and first completed in 1940, but then the grandstand was extended in 1952. Ekelund also designed the Velodrome, completed in 1941, situated in Käpylä close to the athletes’ Olympic Village and Games Village. North-west of the Laakso equestrian arena, at the edge of the city’s Central Park, is the Ruskeasuo Riding Hall, together with two stables, which were designed by Martti Välikangas and completed in 1940.

The Automobile Palace, designed by architecture student Helge Lundström and completed in 1938, was intended for the vehicles of the Olympic visitors. Its present name, the Tennis Palace, was derived from the tennis courts located under its arched roof. Likewise in service of the Olympic traffic was the Olympic Terminal, completed in 1953, which was designed by Aarne Hytönen and Risto-Veikko Luukkonen after they won an invitational competition in 1950 for the design of quayside buildings.


Hilkka Högström

Härö, Mikko (1992). Vainio, Sinikka (toim./ed.), Olympiakaupunki Helsinki. Olympiastaden Helsingfors. Helsinki – The Olympic City. 1952. Memoria 7. Helsinki: Helsingin kaupunginmuseo.
Högström, Hilkka (2001). Great is to triumph, greater far noble combat. Helsingin urheiluarkkitehtuuri vuoden 1940 olympialaisiin. Pro gradu, Helsingin yliopisto.


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